Pro-Palestinian protesters disrupt Easter Vigil Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in NYC

St. Patrick's protesters Protesters disrupt the Easter Vigil Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City on March 30, 2024. | Credit: XR NYC Palestine Solidarity

Three pro-Palestinian protesters were arrested after disrupting the Saturday evening Easter Vigil Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City as the faithful were celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Protesters entered the cathedral about 45 minutes into the 8 p.m. Vigil Mass, which was celebrated by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, and stood in front of the altar with a large flag that read “silence = death.” Security quickly tried to wrestle the flag from the protesters and eventually forced them away from the altar and toward the exit of the church before police came to arrest them.

As the protesters were being forced out of the cathedral, more protesters who were standing in the pews shouted “free, free Palestine.” Security also forced those protesters out of the church. 

New York City police arrested three of the protesters without further incident: 63-year-old John Rozendaal, 35-year-old Gregory Schwedock, and 31-year-old Matthew Menzies. According to police, all three were charged with disrupting a religious service, which is a Class A misdemeanor. 

“Three male individuals barged [into] the church and disrupted Mass by approaching the altar while yelling ‘Free Palestine,’” according to a statement the New York City Police Department provided to CNA.

The protesters who disrupted the Mass were associated with a subgroup of the environmental group called Extinction Rebellion (XR). The subgroup is called XR NYC Palestine Solidarity. All three men issued statements through the organization in a news release after their arrests.

“War, occupation, and industrial pollution are poisoning the soil, air, and water in Gaza and all over the planet, destroying the earth’s capacity to sustain life,” Schwedock said. “This destruction is called ‘Ecocide.’”

The disruption of the Mass occurred following a daylong pro-Palestinian rally in Times Square.

The news release from XR NYC Palestine Solidarity said that its goal was to “demand faith leaders speak out” about the war in Gaza. 

Although it’s unclear what the protesters are specifically requesting of Catholic faith leaders, both the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and Pope Francis have vocally urged a cease-fire in Gaza for months.

The week before, the USCCB urged the faithful to direct prayers during Holy Week “for an end to the raging Israel-Hamas war.” 

“To move forward, a cease-fire and a permanent cessation of war and violence is absolutely necessary,” the bishops said in their March 31 statement. “To move forward, those held hostage must be released and civilians must be protected. To move forward, humanitarian aid must reach those who are in such dire need.”

The pontiff urged an end to the war and expressed solidarity with Catholics in the Holy Land in a letter during Holy Week: “You are not alone; we will never leave you alone but will demonstrate our solidarity with you by prayer and practical charity.”

Neither St. Patrick’s Cathedral nor the Archdiocese of New York responded to a request for comment.

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